ATLANTA — Federal regulators will soon decide whether to investigate a rash of engine fires in vehicles built in Georgia.
Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland found three of the Kia and Hyundai models in question came from the Kia plant in West Point.
Safety watchdogs said for certain models and model years, the cars and SUVs are burning at a rate six times higher than competitor vehicles.
2 Investigates obtained cellphone video after a driver saw the bottom of 2012 Kia Sorento burst into flames.
"Get over! Get over!" the driver can be heard screaming at the Sorento, urging them to pull over.
"There was an explosion under the hood," driver Ronnie Rivera said.
“It was engulfed in flames before I even really was out of the car,” Dan Adams said about the moment his Kia Sorento caught fire.
Adams said he was forced to pull over with his family to evacuate.
Strickland found a burned-out shell of another Sorento at a Cobb County salvage auction that belonged to Kadrius Reid, of Jonesboro.
"You see the tires pop, flames everywhere. It was scary," he told Strickland.
"This almost killed my husband," Kadarius' wife, Danielle, said.
Not much is left of the Reids’ 2014 Sorento, but the ID plate from the Georgia Kia plant survived the fire.
"It’s clear that it’s a defect issue. I think the larger question is what is causing the problem," said Jason Levine, who heads the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C.
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The watchdog group is petitioning the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate 2011-2014 Kia Sorentos and Optimas, 2010-2015 Kia Souls and 2011-2014 Hyundai Sonatas and Santa Fes.
Strickland poured through records of 143 non-collision fires. Forty percent of the cars were manufactured in Georgia, more than any other single plant.
About 80 percent of the engines involved came from a separate Hyundai factory in Alabama.
"What’s particularly concerning is they don’t seem, neither NHTSA nor the manufacturer, seem to have an answer for why these fires keep happening," Levine said.
In a letter to Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, NHTSA claims the majority of non-collision fires occurred in cars recalled for engine debris. It's now reviewing whether there's a correlation.
Rivera's Sorento caught fire and burned as she escorted an oversized big rig in Florida. But it's a 2016 and not part of the recall. It also had high miles which expired the warranty.
"I’m very angry. I’m very upset because they are putting people’s lives in jeopardy by not pursuing, finding out what’s wrong with their product," Rivera said.
Adams’ Sorento was included in the recall. He escaped a fire that broke out a month and a half after the recall gave him a new engine.
"I’m terrified because I have no idea what’s going on because I just had the engine replaced," Adams said.
Federal records indicate the Reid's 2014 Sorento got a recall inspection before it was destroyed by fire.
Strickland asked the Reids what arrangements Kia made to send an engineer to investigate.
"Nothing. They made no arrangements at all. None whatsoever," Danielle Reid said.
Strickland contacted Kia and they supplied this statement:
“Kia Motors America (KMA) continuously evaluates its vehicles as part of ongoing monitoring activities conducted as a standard practice on all Kia models and provides quarterly reports to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about any consumer complaints, notices or claims for any safety issues, including fires.
“KMA has, and will continue to, cooperate and collaboratively work with NHTSA on all matters related to vehicle safety and if a safety defect is detected through the course of vehicle monitoring, Kia promptly reports a safety related defect within the five days mandated by law.
“Kia shares the goals of both the Center for Auto Safety and NHTSA to assure the safety of the vehicles we sell to our customers and put on American roads.
“KMA encourages customers to remedy any open recall as quickly as possible, including certain 20112014 model year Sorento and Optima vehicles identified in June of 2017 (NHTSA Recall Number 17V224) by taking their vehicle to the nearest Kia dealership.
“If a recall is unable to be remedied immediately, KMA will provide alternate transportation at no cost to the customer until their vehicle is repaired or another satisfactory resolution is determined.
“Owners are encouraged to contact Kia Consumer Affairs at 800-333-4542 with any questions or concerns related to this matter.”
Cox Media Group